One of the world's most famous sculptures is futuristic artist Umberto Boccioni's Unique Forms of Continuity in Space from 1913. What is less known is that this sculpture was preceded by three other similar sculptures: Synthesis of the Human Dynamism, Muscles in Quick Motion and Spiralic Expansion of Muscles in Motion. Boccioni was tragically killed in an accident in 1916, and eleven years later his three sculptures were destroyed by neglect. Today, all that remains of them are 30 photos from Boccioni's studio and three galleries around the world. However, by carefully studying and comparing these existing photos, very accurate 3D recreations are in fact possible to make. That is what this project is all about.
It is an inevitable fact that we lack photos of the lost sculptures from many crucial angles. However, what photos we have reveal a lot more than is apparent at first. All of Boccioni's sculptures have very jagged, sharp corners and lines. Cast shadows and highlights describe well-defined shapes. Careful analysis more often than not gives clues to what happens in areas hidden from view. Some shapes are so pronounced that they cannot just disappear into thin air. A thorough knowledge of Boccioni's theoretical thinking, his views on sculpting and, not the least, the ability to "reverse-engineer" Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (the final sculpture to be made) goes a long way to reducing any guesswork. For example, with Muscles in Quick Motion (below), a rough estimate is that more than 90% of its original state can be recreated.
The 3D program used to recreate the sculptures is Pixologic ZBrush, widely utilised by the movie VFX industry for sculpting animals, humans, aliens etc. The process of digital sculpting is both additive and subtractive: using a digital pen and a tablet, digital clay masses are added or taken away. Many of the digital brush tools, such as the rake brush and the clay build-up tool, mimic their real world counterparts. First, all the existing historical photos of a Boccioni sculpture are loaded into image planes. This provides the reference template throughout the sculpting process. Then a clay mass is modified similar to how transparent paper can be used to draw over a background image, and meticulous attention is given to ensure that all shapes, lines and contours in the image planes photos intersect. The end result is a digital sculpture that is extremely close to Boccioni's original sculpture.
When finished, the digital sculpture is transferred from the digital realm to reality through 3D printing. There are several ways to do this. Boccioni's Spiralic Expansion of Muscles in Motion was printed in full size (117 cm) for an exhibition called "Lost & Found" at the Espacio Gallery in London in May 2017. The technique used was CNC (Computer Numerical Control) milling of dense polystyrene. This technique is similar to milling machines that remove material from blocks with rotary cutters to reveal the final shape. Also in 2017, Italian company TorArt (which specialises in robot milling sculptures) created a Carrara marble version of this sculpture, as seen below. The ultimate goal of the project is to recreate all three lost sculptures in full size and present them together in exhibits.